Cirque du Freak : The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

Cirque du Freak is completely idiotic. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the trailer, but it is completely idiotic in a relatively harmless, enjoyable way. It is damaged by poor editing, careless acting and the occasional scripting howler, but it’s silly, watchable fun that children and adults can both watch and instantly forget.

Darren and his friend Steve receive an invite to the Cirque du Freak, a ridiculously amazing freak show circus experience featuring a wolfman, a snakeboy, a woman who can re-grow her own limbs and other absurdities. Sneaking out of their houses to watch the show, Darren (in a moment of teen stupidity) steals a mad-looking red and blue spider from Larten Crepsley, a real-life vampire. Incredibly poisonous and extremely fast, the spider escapes and attacks Steve, who’s immediately plunged into a coma. The only way to save him is the antidote, and the only person with the antidote is Crepsley. Darren heads to the vampire to ask for his help, but he quickly finds out that it will come at a great cost when he is forced to become… The Vampire’s Assistant.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is based on the first three novels in Darren Shan’s The Saga of Darren Shan, an extremely popular collection of children’s horror books now available in 30 languages and in 37 different countries. The film is co-written by Brain Helgeland, the Oscar-winning writer of L.A. Confidential, A Knight’s Tale, Mystic River and Man On Fire, among others, so it’s in decent hands. At least, that’s until you look at who else is involved. Cirque du Freak is directed and partly written by Paul Weitz, the man responsible for the face-slappingly bad adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and brainless sex-comedies American Pie 1 & 2. Any hope of gravitas and intelligence becomes a distant dream, and Weitz’s involvement shows.

What Cirque du Freak suffers from most is incredibly poor editing. With the plethora of deleted scenes on the DVD, it’s clear the running length got out of control and a lot had to be snipped. The result is some confusing scene changes, some entirely missing scenes and a disjointed flow to the film.

The script itself is tongue-in-cheek throughout – “the idea of taking a group of disgusting, weird, deformed people and exploiting them for money. Not in our town” – but the direction, acting and tone do not match up with it. It feels like Eerie, Indiana but dumbed down to its basest, stupidest level.

John C. Reilly, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones and Ray Stevenson clearly smelt an easy paycheck and did a job. Early on in the film, there is a baffling and mildly embarrassing scene between John C. Reilly and Willem Dafoe, where they discuss the “Vampaneze” and mutter on about the Vampire Council in a bored and awkward manner. Dressed like pantomime characters, their presence signals the beginning of the steep collapse of the film. Every actor thereafter hams it up to the extreme, and it becomes even more embarrassing.

It is the children who steal this show, though, with Chris Massoglia’s Darren setting the right level of cockiness and insecurity. It’s Josh Hutcherson who really shines though, playing Darren’s aggressive friend Steve. Coming from a damaged home and rejected by Larten Crepsley for having “bad blood”, Steve easily turns to the evil Vampanize to “turn” him. The result is a nasty little teen bastard vampire, and he carries the only sense of menace in the entire film.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is an unfortunate, missed opportunity. Opting for silliness instead of seriousness, what could have been the next Harry Potter became just another mediocre children’s film, full of poor acting and lazy directing. Zany, enjoyable, colourful, but flawed throughout, this is reasonable, watchable stuff.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.